Author: Audrey Driscoll

Writer, gardener, lapsed cataloguer, and author of the Herbert West Series.

Yellow foliage of Rugosa rose with red leaves of ornamental cherry in background

Leaves and Berries

Around here, leaf-drop happens in November, often along with wind and rain. Southeast winds blow as rainstorms arrive and stiff westerlies as they leave. Northeast winds bring cold air from the British Columbia interior. All these winds mean the leaves from the several trees (maples, ailanthus, and birch) that surround my garden are distributed throughout the neighbourhood. But there are always enough of them to swell the compost pile.

This fall was relatively windless, so the leaves fell close to home. The compost pile is overflowing, with the surplus piled up on the side of the driveway for pickup by the municipality.

Huge pile of leaves on compost heap
Leaves piled up for collection, OTBT in backgroun

Last Tuesday, the winds arrived. First from the southeast, and then the west. Result: a mess. Yet another major raking session was needed. I topped up both compost pile and the pile to be collected. While raking, I noticed leaves from parts unknown, i.e., from trees in other parts of the neighbourhood.

On the other hand, autumn leaves can be quite photogenic.

Yellow maple leaf caught in ornamental grass Pennisetum alopecuroides "Little Bunny"
Maple leaf captured by ornamental grass Pennisetum alopecuroides “Little Bunny.”
Red leaves of Bergenia cordifolia
Leaves of Bergenia cordifolia turning red for winter.
Yellowing foliage of irises and asters in front garden November 2022
Iris and aster foliage yellowing in style.
Red/orange berries of Cotoneaster franchetti
Berries of Cotoneaster franchetti. They’ll be gobbled up by birds soon.
Cotoneaster franchetti twigs, leaves, and branches against blue sky
Since the leaf-redistributing windstorm, we’ve had some chilly blue sky days.
Last few leaves on Magnolia branches against blue sky, with hummingbird
The last few leaves clinging to the magnolia. There’s a hummingbird in the middle of the photo, next to the little cloud. It looks like another leaf!

Meteorological winter is here! It certainly feels like it today, with the temperature hovering around the freezing point.

quote marks and talk bubbles

The Art of Commenting

I began blogging in 2010. It took me a surprisingly long time to figure out that if I wanted my posts to be read, I would have to indicate to other bloggers that my blog existed. That meant doing more than “liking” posts; I had to contribute my thoughts in the form of comments. Once I began doing that, my blog gained readers, “likes,” and followers. Now I am part of a large community of writers, thinkers, and opiners.

When it comes to commenting on blog posts, this is what I do:

  • I usually comment only when I have something to say (other than “Great post!”).
  • It’s easier to comment soon after a post has published, rather than when a couple of dozen other readers have said it all. It’s a bit lame to say, “What everyone else said,” or “Me too!”
  • I’m more likely to comment if a post has few or no comments, especially when there are quite a few “likes.” If there are lots of comments and I don’t have anything new to add, I “like” and leave.
  • I’m uneasy about commenting late in the day when I’m tired, because it’s too easy to word a comment badly and offend or mystify someone. When my gut says “Don’t do it!” I listen.
  • If a comment I’m about to post sounds patronizing or condescending, I don’t post it.
  • If I really have nothing to add, I don’t comment, but I “like” the post to indicate that I’ve read it.
  • Sometimes a “like” means “I like it!” but sometimes it’s just a way of saying “I read it.”
  • If I find a post offensive or totally unrelatable, I neither “like” nor comment, unless I can come up with a civil way of disagreeing that may add to the conversation.
  • I never say that a post is “fantastic,” “fabulous,” or (cringe) “awesome.” It’s theoretically possible that a day will come when I encounter a post that’s accurately described by one of these words (except “awesome”), but it’s unlikely.
  • The posts I find hardest to comment on are those where congratulations or condolences are the only possible responses. It’s hard to say those things in an original way. Instead of scrolling through dozens of near-identical comments, I skip to the end of the comments queue, say something brief and sincere, and don’t worry whether it’s original.
  • Otherwise, it’s often interesting to read others’ comments and even comment on them. I love it when that happens on my blog; it’s as though guests at a party are connecting without my help.
  • I always respond to comments on my blog, if only to acknowledge and thank the commenter.

When I read blog posts first thing in the morning, using a tablet, any comments I make have to be thumb-typed. I much prefer a real keyboard, but I’ve developed a fair amount of speed and accuracy on the tablet’s keyboard. I was delighted to discover where the apostrophe, parentheses, and hyphens were hidden. And I must say the word suggestions above the keyboard are handy (although sometimes a bit peculiar).

Fellow bloggers, what are your thoughts on comments? Please comment!

Snow on front garden shrubs February 2021

Climate Anxiety

As I write this, on November 7th, it’s snowing. Real snow, that’s sticking. A couple of inches have accumulated already, and will probably persist into tomorrow, as the temperature is near the freezing mark. A brisk northeast wind is adding to the feeling that winter has arrived early.

Let me just remind readers that I live in Victoria, British Columbia, where snow is rare most winters. Green Christmases are normal here. I don’t know if this is the earliest snowfall ever, but it’s the earliest I’ve experienced in my 30 years here. I haven’t really started on fall garden tasks. I haven’t even raked leaves, as many are still on the trees, and still green.

I haven’t done much of this yet!

A freak early snowfall is one thing, but this is the fifth in a series of weather extremes in the last two years. The first was the “heat dome” of June 2021, during which many high temperature records were shattered. On June 28th, my max/min thermometer recorded the unheard of high of 37C. In the BC interior, a small town was destroyed by fire on a day that saw temps near 50C. Exactly one year ago, torrential rain (287 mm. or 11 in. recorded here in November 2021) caused major damage in several communities and minor to moderate flooding all over southern BC. Right after Christmas 2021, came a week of extreme cold. That max/min thermometer recorded a low of -10C on December 27th, something I had never experienced here.

The next extreme was a three-month drought last summer. Almost no rain fell between July 7th and October 21st. Summer lingered endlessly. When rain finally started, it was pretty much at normal levels into November, but after the most recent system exited the region, seriously cold air moved onto the south coast from the now chilly interior of the province. According to meteorologists in Washington State, a “backdoor cold front” is pulling this cold air onto the coast and turning any precipitation that occurs to snow.

After all this, I’m apprehensive about what might come next. Blizzards, heat waves, tornadoes, hurricanes? The dynamics of weather have changed. Prediction models aren’t working any more. Everything’s unprecedented.

Weird light at sunset. Orange light due to wildfire smoke.
Orange sunset caused by wildfire smoke.

This makes me realize how much I’ve taken weather patterns for granted, and how disturbing it is to realize that weather is no longer predictable, that extremes may occur at any time. I can no longer tell myself that such events are freakish and rare, and once they’re over it’s back to normal. I’m not sure what normal looks like any more. Add to this similar extreme weather events in other parts of the world (terrible floods in Pakistan, destructive hurricanes in Canada’s Atlantic provinces and in Florida, heat waves and fires in Europe and California), and I feel a constant buzz of anxiety in the background of my days, even when nothing is happening.

We’re told to adapt and prepare, to assemble emergency supplies and “grab and go” bags in case we have to evacuate. (Of course we should already have done that, since we live in a place where a major earthquake may happen any time.) I can’t argue with that, but there’s a difference, I’ve realized, between knowing something unwelcome and accepting it. Acceptance is necessary before action is possible. In between these two states is a period of creeping unease and unfocussed anxiety.

Is any one else feeling climate anxiety? How do you deal with it?

Update: Most of the snow melted the next day, but temperatures are still several degrees below normal. The next week is supposed to be mostly sunny and dry. No floods expected, at least in the short term!

digital brain

Mysteries of the ToC

When I published my latest novel on Amazon KDP several months ago, the automated quality checker popped up a yellow triangle and notified me that I had failed to add a linked table of contents. It wasn’t a deal-breaker for publishing, but a deficiency nevertheless.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Except that my Word document did include a perfectly good linked ToC. I tested every link. All of them worked. The problem, I realized, was I had created the ToC following the Smashwords Style Guide, which has step-by-step instructions for adding bookmarks to the chapter headings and hyperlinking to the relevant spots in the text. I began my publishing adventure at Smashwords, so thought this was the right way to make a linked table of contents.

Smashwords Style Guide cover

Except that whatever program ingests Word docs at KDP and spits out Kindle ebooks doesn’t recognize a linked ToC created that way. It looks for a ToC generated by Word’s automatic ToC creator (which I’ve never used). Because I publish my books on both Amazon and Smashwords, I use near-identical copies of a single Word doc (with the necessary adjustments to the copyright page) for both. But when I look at one of those books on my Kindle, instead of the full list of chapters in the “Go To” drop-down, the only sections I see are Beginning, Page or Location, Cover, and End. And yet, if I go to Beginning and page forward, there’s the ToC. And the links work exactly as they should.

I’ve been resigned to this state of affairs, with vague notions of maybe disassembling the ToCs on my Amazon documents and rebuilding them the “proper” way, and then republishing, but I haven’t gotten around to it. Fiddling around with Word isn’t high on my “Fun Things To Do” list. And republishing is a pain.

So What? yellow sticker

What I did do, though, for a different reason, is experiment with emailing ebooks to my Kindle. Kindles (and other devices) have Amazon email addresses. This was news to me, but it’s helpful when someone sends you a PDF of a book and you want to read it on the handy-dandy little reading device.

Kindle e-reader

As an experiment, I emailed my Kindle one of my early books published on Smashwords. Thinking that Mobi files are Kindle-friendly, I selected that version and sent it as an attachment to the special email address. Surprisingly, I received an email from Amazon, informing me that “We wanted to let you know that starting August 2022, you’ll no longer be able to send MOBI (.mobi, .azw) files to your Kindle library.”

Well, surprise, surprise. Even more surprising was the information that Amazon considers Epub a compatible format. So I emailed the Epub version of the book. When I turned on my Kindle, there it was, cover image and all. Yet another surprise was that despite the notice, the Mobi version was there as well, but minus the cover image.

The final surprise was—ta da!—both versions included a linked ToC in the “Go To” drop-down, even though it was created using bookmarks and hyperlinks, just like the one that wasn’t acceptable when I uploaded the Word doc to Amazon KDP.

So the Kindle’s “Go To” displays ToCs perfectly well after the Word doc has been turned into either an Epub or a Mobi, even if that processing was done by Smashwords’s “Meatgrinder.” But Amazon’s processor doesn’t recognize ToCs created by anything other than Word’s automatic ToC generator. Hence the admonishment that you really should include a table of contents to enhance the reader experience. With the accompanying yellow triangle, of course.

blue flames question mark

I suspect this issue may be avoided by uploading Epubs directly to Amazon, but to create an Epub myself I would have to use Calibre or a similar tool, and I haven’t so far been motivated to learn how to do that.

Has anyone else noticed this kind of thing, with tables of contents or anything else?

The Necromancer’s Daughter: a novel by D. Wallace Peach

First, a word from Diana:

Greetings, Audrey. Thanks so much for inviting me to join you on your blog to talk a bit about my new book The Necromancer’s Daughter. I wanted to share a little dilemma that I had at the start of the book and how I chose to handle it. It’s interesting to me how certain stories challenge us to try something different.
The first section of the book, The Necromancer, is six chapters long, and it introduces Barus. For most of this section, Aster hasn’t been born, so the story unfolds in Barus’s POV.
Then, the story takes a turn and jumps ahead to section two, called The Necromancer’s Daughter. Aster, as a young woman, takes over the story, and Barus fades from the spotlight.
But I liked Barus, and I hoped readers would like him too. And though he isn’t present for the majority of the remaining action, he continues to be extremely important to the story. How would I keep him present and involved if he wasn’t, in fact, present and involved? Hmmm.
I decided that while he fled the kingdom in search of a safe haven, he would write a letter to Aster, in installments similar to a diary. It was my little dive into epistolary storytelling (storytelling through letters). I’m crossing my fingers that it worked.
Thanks again for having me along, and many thanks to your blog buddies for visiting. Happy Reading!

The word “necromancer” in the title captured my interest. My own writing has given me an acquaintance with such an individual, so I was intensely interested in Barus and how he returns the dead to life. Here is an excerpt in which Barus studies his mother Olma’s book of medicines, potions, and cures, specifically, the chapter titled Death Magic:

double quotation mark open

He turned the page and sighed with relief at the plainly written recipes employing common herbs and natural toxins, hallucinogens distilled from plants growing near his home. The many drawings included black henbane and jimson weed, moonseed and baneberry, all familiar to him. Instructions detailed methods for turning necromantic solutions into powders, determining portions, and administering them with…
He froze. The last ingredient on the list stopped his breath.
Human blood.
He shut the book with a thump. Dawn flung golden spears through gaps in the thatch, and he sagged with fatigue, face in his hands. He’d wasted his time. Olma would never have stolen a life, never poisoned and bled one soul to save another. She must have discovered a different way. He dropped his hands and stared at the cut on his knuckle. Another bead of blood had smeared and dried.
His own blood.
He stroked the book’s leather cover as he grasped the nature of the scars on Olma’s arms, scars she’d never explained. Possibility coursed through his veins and lit a fire behind his eyes. Never again would he lose someone he loved.

I loved this! I loved it because it involves a book of esoteric lore, and names real plants used in magic. And the necromantic ritual is not a simple matter of following a recipe. The practitioner must suffer and risk losing his or her life. The scene in which Barus heals Aster from death is both harrowing and poignant. It is incredibly compelling. And it’s only the beginning of peril and fear for both Barus and Aster, as they are hunted by those who believe them to be abominations.

Book Description:
A healer and dabbler in the dark arts of life and death, Barus is as gnarled as an ancient tree. Forgotten in the chaos of the dying queen’s chamber, he spirits away her stillborn infant, and in a hovel at the meadow’s edge, he breathes life into the wisp of a child. He names her Aster for the lea’s white flowers. Raised as his daughter, she learns to heal death.
Then the day arrives when the widowed king, his own life nearing its end, defies the Red Order’s warning. He summons the necromancer’s daughter, his only heir, and for his boldness, he falls to an assassin’s blade.
While Barus hides from the Order’s soldiers, Aster leads their masters beyond the wall into the Forest of Silvern Cats, a land of dragons and barbarian tribes. She seeks her mother’s people, the powerful rulers of Blackrock, uncertain whether she will find sanctuary or face a gallows’ noose.
Unprepared for a world rife with danger, a world divided by those who practice magic and those who hunt them, she must choose whether to trust the one man offering her aid, the one man most likely to betray her—her enemy’s son.
A healer with the talent to unravel death, a child reborn, a father lusting for vengeance, and a son torn between justice, faith, and love. Caught in a chase spanning kingdoms, each must decide the nature of good and evil, the lengths they will go to survive, and what they are willing to lose.

Purchase Links

AMAZON: US UK CA AU IN

Barnes & Noble

KOBO


Apple


Smashwords


About Diana Wallace Peach:
A long-time reader, best-selling author D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life when years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books. She was instantly hooked.
In addition to fantasy books, Peach’s publishing career includes participation in various anthologies featuring short stories, flash fiction, and poetry. She’s an avid supporter of the arts in her local community, organizing and publishing annual anthologies of Oregon prose, poetry, and photography. Peach lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two owls, a horde of bats, and the occasional family of coyotes.

Blue Siberian irises

Six Harsh Truths About Gardening

Another gardening year is drawing to an end. It’s time to evaluate and plan for Next Year (which is always the best year). But right now, the gardener is tired—of lugging watering cans, digging holes, and sawing roots while in a bent-over position. Some plants are overgrown, others are moribund. The gardener is oppressed by all the things that must be done—but not right now, because it’s not the right season.

In this rather glum mood, the gardener ponders some harsh truths.

Harsh Truth Number One. Gardening is not a hobby you can put aside when you get tired of it, or something more exciting comes along. Not in a place where constant attention must be paid to watering. Then there’s weeding, staking, tying, and deadheading. And let’s not forget pruning. Forget about those summer camping trips, unless you’re prepared to deal with a mess when you return.

Harsh Truth Number Two. Unless you confine yourself to growing vegetables, annuals, and herbaceous ornamentals, you will have to learn to prune “woody subjects,” such as shrubs and even trees. And then you’ll actually have to do it. Pruning often means cutting off healthy growth that looks like the best part of the plant, trusting that it will have a beneficial effect in the end. That’s hard to do. And after a pruning session, you have to dispose of all the lovely stuff you’ve cut off.

Harsh Truth Number Three. Plants are going to die, despite your best efforts. The new, exciting perennial that’s being touted by all the experts. The marginally hardy shrub you fuss over and cosset, telling yourself that maybe it’s actually grown a bit this year. And sometimes an old reliable blooms better than it ever has, and then suddenly wilts, never to rise again.

Harsh Truth Number Four. Your garden will never look anything like your vision of it at the planning stage, or like those swoon-worthy photos in horticultural magazines. (Remember, though, that those photos capture moments, not seasons.) And no matter how well a plant does in your garden, you will inevitably see it looking better in someone else’s.

Harsh Truth Number Five. You are responsible for your garden, but you’re not really in control of it. Weather—rain (or lack of it), sun, wind, frost—has the last word. Along with fungi, bugs, raccoons, the roots of nearby trees, and the inner workings of plants themselves. The gardener isn’t the supreme commander, but rather a combination of servant, coach, first aid attendant, cleanup crew, and undertaker.

Harsh Truth Number Six. No matter how much hope, love, and sweat you expend on your garden, there’s no guarantee that it will persist beyond your tenure. Once the gardener has shuffled off to the retirement home or downsized to a condo, the garden will change, or even disappear, along with the house, the trees, and the pavements, to be replaced by some architectural monstrosity and instant landscaping. I’ve seen this happen too often where I live. But then, the present house and garden replaced farmland, which in turn replaced wildlife habitat or land inhabited and harvested by indigenous people.

Harsh truths can be overwhelming. After reading the above, one may ask, “So why garden, if it’s so harsh?”

Every gardener will have their own answer. The satisfaction of growing food. A certain amount of exercise. Being outside and forming a relationship with the natural world. I can relate to all of these, but for me the reward comes when I go out into the garden and experience a moment when colours, textures, the relationship of light with the plants, the smells of flowers and earth and living things combine in a form of perfection. These episodes are brief and cannot be commanded, but they outweigh all the harsh truths. It’s as though my acceptance of them, and doing the necessary work, makes a kind of magic.

Benign light
Gilds the very air,
Makes dust motes into small blessings,
Deepens the hues of leaf and flower.
The gardener stands bemused
At the gateway between day and night,
Clutching secateurs and a handful of spent flowers.
Caught in stillness,
Gazing,
As white flowers become little stars,
And the light fades to blue.
Pond bench, hostas, with Athyrium niponicum var. pictum (Japanese painted fern) in foreground
Back garden perennial beds in June, with Verbascum chaixii, Delphinium, Asiatic lilies, and white campion (Lychnis coronaria "Alba") in bloom
Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. Pictum) and pond